Published on Monday, August 21, 2000 in the New York Times
Going Backwards:
Led by US, Arms Sales Surge Globally
by Steven Lee Myers
 
WASHINGTON - International arms sales surged last year to nearly $30.3 billion, the highest level since 1996, and the United States solidified its position as the world's biggest arms dealer, according to an authoritative government report.

The report by Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, showed that American contractors sold nearly $11.8 billion in weapons in 1999 -- more than a third of the world's total and more than all European countries combined.

American arms sales, like those worldwide, were still far below the peaks reached in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, but the United States has steadily increased its sales in the last few years, from $7.7 billion in 1997 and $10.3 billion in 1998, the report found.

"Obviously the United States' position has been consolidated as the leading weapons supplier -- both for the world as a whole and for the developing countries," said Richard F. Grimmett, an analyst who wrote the report, which is delivered every year to Congress.

While the United States remained the largest supplier, Russia vastly expanded its weapons sales in 1999 -- to $4.8 billion, nearly double the $2.6 billion in deals it made the year before. With the impoverished Russian military proving a meager customer, Russia's military-industrial complex has begun a major effort to market its wares to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Nearly half of Russian sales last year came from an agreement to sell China 40 to 60 Su-30 fighter jets, while Russia also provided a number of advanced weapons to India. With many Western nations more willing to buy weapons from the United States or other NATO nations, China and India are likely to remain Russia's most lucrative customers in the years to come, Dr. Grimmett said.

"The Indians are building up their military and the Chinese are trying to modernize their force structure," he said. "And the Russians are their major supplier. As long as those two countries continue to build up, the Russians are likely to increase their sales in the future."

China also emerged in 1999 as a major weapons supplier, reaching agreements to sell $1.9 billion worth of weapons. That was more than double the $925 million it sold the year before and the most since the Congressional Research Service began compiling its report in 1992.

The report attributed most of China's increase to relatively small weapons deals in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with Pakistan "a key Chinese client."

The report did not give details of China's sales to Pakistan, but a separate report sent to Congress by the Central Intelligence Agency earlier this month said that China had increased its efforts to provide Pakistan with "missile-related technical assistance" last year. It also said China had provided similar assistance to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

As in the past, roughly two-thirds of all arms were sold to developing nations -- and again the United States, with $8.1 billion in sales, led the way, followed by Russia, with $4.1 billion.

In recent years, the hungriest buyers have been countries in the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.

In 1999, however, South Africa emerged as the leading buyer in the developing world, reaching agreement for $3.3 billion in weapons purchases, according to the report. Much of that was driven by the government's agreement with Germany to buy four patrol corvettes and three diesel-electric submarines, the report said, a purchase that was criticized by some South Africans as too costly.

The report predicted intensifying competition among arms supplies in the years ahead. Many countries, eager to protect their own defense industries, are less likely to turn to the international market, while the lingering impacts of the Asia financial crisis of 1997 could mean still fewer buyers.

The report said, however, that those trends enhanced the United States' advantage over other international sellers, since previous American sales resulted in new ones.

"There are very few big sales out there," Dr. Grimmett said, "but for the last 25 years, we've developed relationships with so many countries that now, even though it's a very difficult market, we have a competitive advantage in selling spare parts and support services."

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company

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